Scatterin’ the Drive

April To May, 1972 At The Bell Ranch. 

I had a great time that winter and spring of 1972 at the Bells. It still brings back good memories . . . on horseback all the time, good country and good fellas to work with who didn’t go to town but every month or so.

The nights were long so I could work on a little art, write a letter to my folks or my friend Greg Holt down at the San Simons or Dan Crowley at the Parker outfit in Hawaii. Sometimes on Saturday or Sunday afternoon I’d walk over to Leo’s, who lived about two rock-throws from my house, and he’d show me how to tie a hackamore, a horn knot or help me make a pair of cuffs after seeing Culpepper Cattle Co. I began to accumulate some leather tools . . . hole-puncher, awls, leather strings, even a draw knife to cut bridle reins and latigos. On Friday nights I’d walk over to Leo’s about 6:00 p.m. He’d make some coffee, we’d roll a smoke and watch “Hee-Haw.” It sounds kind of simple to folks nowadays, but it was good entertainment. The next morning we’d ride through those heifers and do whatever was necessary . . . then we’d have the afternoon off. The routine was the same on Sunday. I think God understands when you’re on a cow out fit and calving heifers . . . you have to tend to business. If not calving or out with the wagon, we went to church at Conchas.

By late April we’d pretty well calved out those heifers and were all looking forward to the spring wagon works. We were always loading our mounts, and going to the CA, Casa Colorado or Mosquero camps to help those camp men. One day Leo and I were prowling some big canyon country and I thought I’d fool him. We were on a narrow trail and I pulled up. After looking real hard across the canyon, I asked Leo if he could see that big buck deer way over there under that bluff. Actually there wasn’t a deer there, but Leo studied that direction. After a few seconds, I asked him again if he could see the buck deer. He took a long pull on his smoke and said, “No, but I can hear him.” I so enjoyed those days . . . we did our job, enjoyed our work and had fun at it. It sounds like we should have been paying the Bells to work there. There is great country in that Mosquero range. We prowled deep canyons with pine trees along the rims, lots of cedar and several big rough pastures . . . the C A, the 74, the Juarez, the Wild Jack, Medio and many more. The first time I saw a wild cow trap with a trigger gate was a few years earlier on the Pitchforks in Texas. The next time was in that country I just mentioned. It seemed Waggoner’s cattle had gotten wild in that range, as any stock will if they’re not gathered regularly and are allowed to get away. They are sure tough to catch in a rough range like that.

In early May we were all anxious to see the wagon pull out the first of June. There were 60 or so horses in the Upper Mule Pasture, where we’d put them after fall works. The rest of the remuda was at the headquarters in punchers’ strings. The camp men had full strings also, but usually turned their extra mounts out in a pasture close to their camp so as to keep an eye on them and probably slip a little feed to their pet mounts every now and then. There were two or three extra men hired to help us with the spring branding works. Actually it’s always referred to as “spring doings,” but it was first of June when wagon pulled out. Around the 20th of May, Leo roped out the afternoon mounts and sent Missoula and Bert to prowl some country. Leo told Jim and I to bring the remuda to headquarters so we loaded our mounts in the trailer and hauled to the Upper Mule Pasture. The Bell horses were broke to respect hobbles, the saddle and being handled a-horseback. One or two men could drive those hundred or so horses any where. After unloading we hit a trot to the backside of the Upper Mule Pasture. As we came over the horizon we found the remuda, gathered ‘em up and headed south. We got to the gate going into the Lower Mule Pasture. Jim eased around and opened the gate, the remuda eased through and we kept going south. It was a great spring day with green grass and by now the horses had settled into a little trot. By the time we were getting to the gate into the Seco Pasture those horses knew it was time for spring works. They had cockleburs and witch-knots in their tails, which would soon be cut and combed out. After a set of shoes were nailed on, they’d be ready to go to work. At first some of them might be a little fresh and a few punchers might need a chiropractor, but after some long cicles they’d get lined out. I’ll never forget a few year’s before when old Rocket ironing me out right by the bunkhouse.

I rode down the fence to the gate and opened it a-horseback. The Bells had good swinging pipe and board gates painted red. I Remember George Ellis made a comment years before, that they needed good gates so Mattie {Mrs. Ellis} could open them. A mile or two south we drifted by Red Tank. There were lots of cows lying around. Jim and I both liked to rope and were pretty competitive, so it was always a contest to see who could tie down a cow before the other. Since it was a slow day following these horses, we eyed each other. I was riding Eagle Eye, who was a good looking light sorrel with flax colored mane and tail and a glass eye. He was a Will James type of pony. As long as you sat in the middle and nothing went wrong, he was okay. We both took to a cow. I was lucky and roped one and threw the slack to her. She jarred us good when she hit the end . . . I should have tightened up before this point. It jerked my saddle forward a few inches and Eagle Eye swallowed his head. I was tied off as a fella should be and by the third hard jump I knew he would whirl back soon and I’d have a half-hitch around me which could cut me in half. I put my hand on the saddle horn and pushed my weight up so I could kick my feet out of those oxbows. I got that done and figured I’d roll off his left shoulder on the next jump, when wham! He hit a hard twisting lick and I went off . . . the opposite of all my calculations. I wore those Crockett Kelley, wide banded Baby Chihuahua spurs with those big six-point rowels. They are bad to hang in things, and that’s what they did. It’s my fault for doing extra roping, but to this day I’m not sure exactly what happened. Jim said I hung-up in a saddle D-ring and was upside down under my mount for three or four jumps. I remember his hind hoofs coming by my ears and I knew the next one would hit me in the head. I could think as if I was sitting in an easy chair at the office. My thoughts were that I was a goner any second, expecting Eagle Eye to kick me. The next thing I knew I was on the ground, with a mouth full of dirt. The first thing I saw was Jim picking up the hocks of that cow and “going to the end of it.” He jerked my mount hard enough that he quit pitching and was staring down the rope. I tailed the cow over and got our ropes off. I was so mad at my horse that I reset my saddle and lined out another. I roped her, dropped it over her hip and went to the end of it just to show Eagle Eye that I could. As Jim and I loped up to catch the remuda drifting towards headquarters, we caught up with them and pulled up to a walk. I guess my adrenaline had been going good and then slowed down, because when I pulled out the “makings,” my hands went to shaking so that I couldn’t roll a smoke. That evening after supper I went down to the ranch shop and ground the pins out of those spurs and put big rowels in with sixteen small points instead of those six-point ones. I was so fortunate that my number wasn’t up and figured an angel was watching over me. Another great day of riding, roping and seeing God’s country, at the Bells. n